|Amuse-bouche at Punjab Grill|
Gaggan’s ascent to No.3 spot on 2014’s Asia’s 50 Best (and No. 17 on 2014’s World’s 50 Best list) has cast the spotlight on modern Indian gastronomy. Across the globe, a cadre of Indian chefs are inspired to stretch their imagination and push the boundaries on their 5,000-year-old cuisine.
Admittedly, the trend is nothing new; in Singapore, the likes of Rang Mahal and Songs of India have brought us contemporary Indian cuisine years ago. But suddenly, foams, spheres – and even amuse-bouche – have become de rigueur on the modern Indian menu.
Punjab Grill is no newbie to the Indian fine dining scene. It debuted at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (“The Shoppes”) in mid June 2011 (the 6th outlet of Punjab Grill and its first international outpost) amidst the hubbub of celebrity chef openings.
Sequestered away at the far end of The Shoppes, Punjab Grill looks every bit the Indian restaurant that it set out to be with a trio of copper tandoori oven tucked strategically in a plate glass show kitchen at the rear of an austere-grey dining room bedecked with lots of glass and metal.
|Chef Javed Ahamad (left) and restaurant manager, Manu Gandotra (right)|
The bill of fare is upscale frontier cuisine by Bombay native, Javed Ahamad, matched with one of the smoothest front of house service by restaurant manager, Manu Gandotra. Both Ahamad and Gandotra were part of the opening team and the pair runs Punjab Grill like a perfectly oiled machine. Gandotra knows every item on the menu better than the back of his hands and it shows when he speaks prolifically (and passionately) about each dish. To find out how deft Ahamad is in the kitchen, you only need to peek into his perennially packed dining room or, better still, grace the restaurant with your presence.
To showcase his “progressive” take on Indian cuisine, Ahamad is introducing a brand new 10-course royal tasting menu (S$150++ per head without wine pairing), both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, from 10th October 2014.
In truth, Ahamad’s cuisine is more contemporary than progressive. Apart from a few clouds of foams and some lovely spheres, the clues that hint of experimentation are far and very few in between. That may not be a bad thing though because Punjab Grill’s frontier cuisine is one of the finest we’ve had in Singapore. With the basics down pat, Ahamad takes a handful of well-made classics from his a la carte, gives them a twist (be it in terms of presentation or saucing) and plates each course of the tasting menu with the finesse of Western chef.
|Wild mushroom shorba|
Wild mushroom shorba with a hint of morel mushroom from Kashmir served in a cup – cappuccino-style – is not unlike its western counterpart. It’s aromatic (although the truffle oil is not entirely necessary), frothy with bits of fungi and probably the least ethnic item on the tasting menu.
|Hokkaido scallop and Norwegian salmon|
A trio of entrée ensues. Most notable is the disc of Indian tava-grilled Hokkaido scallop crowned with roasted fennel seeds (oh that hint of liquorice on the palate!) served on a puddle of red capsicum coulis. Teamed with saffron-scented tandoori-smoked Norwegian salmon, the seafood combo is immaculate.
|Barbary duck roasted in a tandoori oven|
What follows is a generously portioned duck dish that somewhat toes the French territory. Barbary duck is marinated in yoghurt, citrus and a rich blend of spices (including green cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf and a hint of saffron), then roasted in the tandoori oven. While the duck is not done to a tender pinkish-red within like in French eateries, it arrives at the table suitably slathered in transcendental foie gras cream.
Top marks also goes to the mains.
|Braised lamb shank in rogan foam|
Lamb shank braised in a cocktail of brown onion, yoghurt and spices arrives with clouds of intensely savoury rogan foam (rendered from the lamb’s own gravy) and meat so tender that it falls off the bone with the prod of a fork. Skirting the plate is a pile of biryani rice and a mound of stir-fried vegetables infused with burnt garlic so aromatic that it’ll make your knees go weak.
|Haute butter chicken|
The ensuing mains of butter chicken pales in size but not in flavour with a haute portion of the North Indian staple served in a puny tomato tart. Flanking it are 2 puny whole-wheat Indian flatbreads – one topped with mint and the other with red chilli spread.
|Kulfi on frozen watermelon with Malibu rum-accented phirni|
If your appetite makes it this far, it’s worth bingeing on Ahamad’s sweets. Instead of fielding a miserly scoop of kulfi, Ahamad serves the traditional milk ice cream on a block of candies-studded too-hard-to-be-eaten frozen watermelon alongside a glass of Malibu rum-accented phirni (sweetened rice pudding in a milk base) with frothed coffee bubbles.
|The Diwali sweets, disguised as petit fours, are tastier than most mignardises we’ve had|
Better still, make room for the otherworldly Diwali sweets disguised as petit fours. These mildly-sweet, nuts-choked ambrosia quite franklysurpass most mignardises we’ve had. Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, you’ll shamelessly ask for seconds.
Lest you’re raring to go, do tamper your expectation. This 10-course royal tasting menu will only be available for dinner and if you’re here at lunch, there’s always the 5-course set and an a la carte menu to tide you over.
2 Bayfront Avenue, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands B1-01A, Singapore 018 972 | +65 6688 7395 | punjabgrill.com.sg